Someone once told me that when you help others you are actually helping yourself. I guess that was my main motivation for volunteering with Crisis at Christmas this year.
Every Christmas I go home, run away somewhere hot or watch Bridget Jones in front of the TV feeling sorry for myself. This year is a different year. I’ve made some important life changing decisions and I decided I was only going to fight the good fight, even when sometimes I have to fight against myself. So when I found myself close to Christmas with no escape plan I decided to do something I have always wanted to: help others less fortunate. See, I figured that being alone on Christmas is probably not the worst thing that can happen to someone. Not having a roof above your head at Christmas is a hell of a lot worse. So no more Bridget Jones this year!
I didn’t think it would be that easy but all I had to do was to sign up on the Crisis at Christmas website (www.crisis.org.uk), choose a center and a minimum of two shifts. I could only do Boxing Day and my birthday (Monday), so I chose the two shifts. I had no idea what I was going to do and how I would manage during the 8 hours of my shift but I went for it and hoped for the best.
Hundreds of volunteers were gathered in the volunteers room talking lively to each other as if they’ve been best friends forever. There was a palpable sense of happiness in the room despite the seriousness of the issue we were there for: giving 300 homeless people a home for a few days.
I volunteered to work in the kitchen at first. I figured it would be easier to peel and chop that actually talk to people with real problems. After all, I was helping right? But a few sacks of potatoes, carrots and parsnips later there was nothing left for me to do. I had to go and request another task.
They sat me down at the healthcare desk, where a few men were waiting for free consultations. An older Polish man was sat by my right. He couldn’t speak much English but he used body language to express he was cold. His eyes were smiling though when he was looking at me.I spoke to a few others waiting for their turn, amongst which a man who’s had two tooth extractions and needed some painkillers.
I noticed then that everyone there was smiling. All the volunteers and most of the guests were actually having a good time together, chatting, playing games or waiting to be seen by a doctor. That night we were all just people. People who talked to each other. People you would normally pass by on the street, mutter a guilty ‘sorry’ and hurry your pace. People you wouldn’t give a second thought to because they’ve become such a normal sight of the city scape. Young people, smart people, funny people, people with stories to tell.
I noticed two men chatting away in Romanian. I interrupted them saying I was also from Romanian and happy to help if they needed anything. They looked like educated men, dressed well, articulate and I enjoyed talking to them. They were modest and earnest. Soon a small community of Romanians surrounded me and addressed me with profound respect calling me ‘Mrs Iulia’ and looking at me in amazement. One of them asked me if I went to Church. ‘No, I come here’, I said.
I don’t know where the 8 hours have gone. At the end of the shift I was tired but happy. Happy for so many reasons. Grateful that I have so many things in my life already. Things like a bed, clean clothes, a hot shower. And it’s incredible how even though we are blessed with so much, we still find so many reasons every day to moan about. I think we should all learn a thing or two about humility and how to smile when you have little and yet so much!
If you want to volunteer with Crisis at Christmas, follow this link: http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/volunteer.html